Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Examining Police Use of Force Can Be Expensive

As the Washington Post reports, the FBI is going to significantly improve its ability to track information on police shootings, calling the current system a "travesty."  But as my computer-assisted reporting class discovered, if a citizen wants to get information

about a police department's use of force, it can be cost prohibitive depending upon the state.  

Here's the response student Rachel Godin got from the city of Lansing, Michigan.   To get copies of the use-of-force reports it's only $21,350.   That's right, twenty-one thousand three hundred fifty dollars, and the city wants an initial payment of more than ten grand.    

The threat to democracy does not come from terrorists, it comes from government secrecy.

Michigan reporters should be holding their elected officials accountable and asking them why Michigan has a law that allows for such charges.  Donald Trump and the 1% can afford to go after public records in Michigan, the average citizen can't.   When access to public records is thwarted, accountability in government doesn't have much of a chance.    


Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Must-See Movie for the Christmas (College Bowl) Season

Every university president and every sports editor should go back and read Jeanne Marie Laskas' article from 2009, Game Brain.   What a great piece of work telling the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first encountered and documented the damage football causes when he examined the brain of Pittsburgh Steeler great Iron Mike Webster.   In sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, Laskas makes you think about and begin to question a game you have loved (My grandfather was a college player and a lifelong football coach; one of my earliest Christmas presents from Grandpa Joe was a used football helmet - the leather helmet type). 

From her 2009 article:  

"Omalu did not like the education he was receiving. He felt he was learning something very ugly about America, about how an $8 billion industry could attempt to silence even the most well-intentioned scientist and in the most insidious ways."

"In the jar is Omalu’s fifteenth confirmed case of CTE—the most dramatic he’s seen."

"The NFL was already plenty pissed off. They had refused to acknowledge CTE or any of Omalu’s research or, really, Omalu himself. It seemed they wanted to simply pretend Omalu did not exist, and he was sick of it, sick of insisting that yes, Bennet Omalu is a real person who has discovered a real disease that is really damaging real people even as you sit there denying it. The public debate with the NFL was a distraction from his research. He would continue his work quietly, examining brains."

"Anybody still denying the disease is out of his mind."

Why newsrooms across the country didn't jump on this article back in 2009 and start questioning coaches, parents, and school administrators about what was now scientifically documented probably comes back to the newsroom battle between reporters and cheerleaders.   When it comes to football, until now the pom pom wavers have usually won.  A movie based on Jeanne Laskas' reporting of Omalu's work may change that.

Concussion with Will Smith should be mandatory viewing for every every reporter and for every university president.   

After viewing the university president should do the following: 

1.  Go to the mirror.

2.  Look in the mirror.

3.  Ask, "why am I, a university president, not concerned about supporting a sport that causes brain damage?"

Every sports editor should simply ask one question:   when will my sports reporters put down their pom poms and pick up their pens and do some reporting?

Imagine what the football world would look like today if sports reporters were reporters and not cheerleaders.  Every sports cheerleader should write Jeanne Marie Laskas a thank you note and say "thank you for demonstrating what a reporter is supposed to do."  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.